Welcome, Greg; Emotion

[From Bill Powers (950604.1005 MDT)]

Greg Wierzbicki (950604) --

Welcome to CSG-L, Greg. Just a few pointers about our customary format
(which you are free to ignore but it's helpful if you follow it). Notice
how I started my post: [From Bill Powers (yymmdd.hhmm ZONE)].

This tells the reader who it was that wrote this whole post: me. So if
it's a long post, you don't have to scroll to the end of it to find out
who wrote it. This is NOT automated, by the way; it's typed in by hand
as the first line of the post.

Then comes (in the present post) "Greg Wierzbicki (950604) --". That
indicates whose post I am going to comment on (either in reply to you in
particular or just a general comment referring to your post). If I
comment on several people's posts, I precede each comment by a similar
line using the name and time-date stamp that the person entered at the
beginning of his or her post (if none, I make one up as nearly as
possible). This can be handy when someone refuses to believe that you
said something, or when you want to prove that someone said something
that he or she now denies. In a more friendly vein, it also allows you
to give credit where it's due, and indicate exactly what it is that
you're commenting on (on CSG-L there are often several threads being
spun at the same time).

I have taken to indenting quotations from other people's posts; also
some systems automatically insert a ">" before a cited paragraph or
before each cited line; you can add that by hand if you want to, to
indicate quoted material.

Then at the very end is my signoff, which in my case is simple but in
other people's cases can be similar to yours.

How about a tip on pronunciation of your name? (And please don't say



There is no "official" PCT theory of emotion, but we have had some
ideas. You can find a chapter on emotion (that was editorially deleted
from my 1973 book) in Living Control Systems II (see the reference
materials in the Intro to PCT that is posted near the first of every
month). Here's a current version I how I see emotions.

The basic idea is that emotions, or some of the experiences we call
emotions, are created by the hierarchy of control systems when goals are
set or changed and the system goes about correcting the resulting error
signals. Depending on the goal, the brain-hierarchy adjusts reference
signals in different patterns not only for the behavioral systems that
act with muscles, but for the somatic control systems: the major organ
systems that back up overt behavior and are near the top of a
biochemical hierarchy of control systems.

The changes in reference signals for the somatic systems are those
appropriate for the kind of action that will be needed to correct the
error. These changes occur in parallel with setting reference signals
for the behavioral systems, the ones that use muscles and act via the
outside world. Thus an emotional state contains both a preparation for
physical action, and an alteration of the bodily control systems as
appropriate for the action. There can be depressed bodily states
appropriate for hiding or giving in to external forces or avoiding
notice, or elevated bodily states appropriate for supporting energetic

Fear, for example, might arise from setting a goal for rapidly getting
away from something. This is translated into specific goals for moving
the arms and legs, and also into increased reference signals for such
somatic conditions as heart rate, breathing rate, vasoconstriction,
blood pressure, blood glucose, and so forth. Many of these physiological
changes can be sensed directly and indirectly. The totality of
experiences that arise from inside the body and from the action systems
forms a familiar pattern that we label "fear."

If the goal is, instead, to act aggressively toward something, the
behavioral aspect of the situation is different, but the changes in body
state that result are essentially identical to those that arise when we
feel fear: this constellation of physiological changes has been called
the "fight-or-flight syndrome". The bodily pattern of sensations is the
same as in fear, but the cognitive component is different, for the goal
is to move toward the object of the emotion rather than away from it. So
we use a different label for this total pattern of goal plus internal
feelings: irritation, anger, or rage, depending on how large the error

The intensity of an emotional state depends on the size of the error
that is driving the action and changing the somatic reference signals.
In normal successful behaviors, errors are never allowed to get very
large; behavior starts as soon as any error is detectable, and prevents
it, normally, from getting much larger. So while there are bodily
sensations accompanying all actions, they are not very noticeable under
normal cirumstances.

What creates an intense feeling of emotion is a very large error signal.
Large error signals can arise from larger-than-normal disturbances from
the environment, or from internal conflict that turns one set of
behavioral control systems against another inside the same person.

As an example of conflict, if you want to flee but don't wish to appear
cowardly you will prevent yourself from going away from the source of
the problem, and thus leave the error signal produced by the desire to
flee completely uncorrected. This large error signal will be cancelled
by the conflicting control system before it can result in action.
However, the same large error signal will be changing reference signals
for the somatic control systems by a large amount, the amount normally
appropriate to support an energetic action such as fleeing. You will
therefore experience a large deviation of bodily feelings from their
normal neutral states, and this, together with the desire to flee, will
be recognized as an intense emotion, an intense "fear."

The same happens if for some reason you want to attack, but for some
other reason choose to hold back from overt action. Again, the bodily
states will depart from neutral, but the error will not be corrected
because of the internal conflict; the emotional state, now probably
called "anger", will be intense.

Essentially the same intensity of emotion will be felt if the desire is
thwarted by external circumstances. You want to get away from the
railroad tracks, but your foot is stuck under a tie. Or you want to hit
someone in the nose, but through "self-control" you hold yourself back.
Your body is prepared for strenuous action, but the error that drives
this preparation is not quickly corrected as it would normally be.

Large errors can also be created by large disturbances or by failure of
the environment to be moved by normal efforts. This could account for
the three-iron you might find discarded on a golf course, bent double.

This principle seems to apply to a number of emotional or arousal states
to which we give emotion-names. It's more difficult to see the pleasant
emotions this way, except that the same sorts of bodily sensations are
often involved -- excitement and exhilaration, for example, don't
actually feel, physically, a lot different from terror, although the
cognitive aspects are certainly different.

The general idea is that emotion naturally accompanies action, and
indeed is a kind of action, an internal action that adjusts the body to
support the muscle-actions involved in visible behavior. It is created
by our own desires and intentions, or rather by departures what what we
are experiencing from what we desire or intend to experience. Just as we
feel greater efforts taking place when our behavioral goals become
difficult to reach, so do we feel more intense bodily sensations in the
same situations. Many different patterns of goals and bodily sensations
result, to which we give different emotion-names.

A few observations.

Some people, it is said, are more "emotional" than others. In the light
of the above theory of emotion, we would interpret this as meaning that
some people have more difficulty than others in satisfying their goals
and carrying out their intentions: that they suffer larger chronic
errors than others do. Their hyperemotionality is not, however the
problem; it is only a sign that there is a problem.

This state of hyperemotionality might reflect considerable internal
conflict, which makes any effective control difficult. Or it might be
that the conflict is external -- it could be that because of some
accident of birth or situation such as race, gender, age, physical
constitution, religious beliefs, or social status, a person finds that
normal efforts to get respect, help, encouragement, or simple
cooperation, which most people who do not have these "handicaps" take
for granted, are continually frustrated.

For example, it has not been very long since women were expected to stay
home and take care of children, cook and sew and clean, be fornicated
upon, and be content without any education about the world or any say in
how the world is run. When they expressed resentment, anger or grief,
nobody asked what goals were being frustrated, what opposition was
encountered to every attempt to shape a world closer to the heart's
desire. Instead, women were accused of being "hysterical" (meaning that
they had a problem because of having wombs) or of being innately
emotional rather than content and rational. A man, of course, had no
right to be discontent or irrational, and considering the relative ease
in reaching goals, not nearly as much reason. As the women's movements
have been trying to say in recent times (what seem to me to be recent
times), emotionality is not the problem: the problem is in the obstacles
to striving for and satisfying the goals that any normal human being
wants to reach. It is loss of control that is the problem.

Irrationality, I might add, seems to go with emotionality, for a reason
that PCT can also somewhat plausibly explain. A person who suffers large
and chronic errors will be in a state of more or less continual
reorganization (which see, in the PCT literature). This means that the
person's perceptions, goals, and means of action will continually be in
a state of change; the goals of one moment may give way to new goals at
the next moment. What is happening is that the system as a whole is
looking for solutions to control problems by trial and error, all
learned methods having produced no desired result. As chronic
emotionality signals problems with achieving control by available means,
so does inconsistency and erratic change of goals signify the chronic
errors that reflect a persistent difference between what is wanted and
what is experienced. We should therefore look on a person who is
hyperemotional and seemingly irrational as a person who is experiencing
serious and continuing difficulties in creating acceptable experiences.
And perhaps we should ask ourselves to what degree our treatment of such
a person is a source of the problem.

Bill P.